Anticlimax. Antithesis. Polar opposites. Diametrically opposed.
This was my very weekend.
One moment I’m complaining about ‘no harmattan’, and the next morning I’m the glorious recipient of a cold wave when I open my front door – ‘Harmattan’ has officially arrived.
So now I can make my declaration ‘Its time to get ready for Christmas’. For they go hand in hand, just in case you ‘wondered’ out loud.
I can say too how much Port Harcourt reminds me of ‘The Windy City‘. Which I’ve never been to, but which my friend Velva described as ‘having freaky weather’………The following day, it was COLD and WINDY-what’s up with that?’
My days are now cold and windy – very bad news for short dresses is all I’ll say….. And I’ll leave it there.
I spent this weekend past home. Alone.
They ran off to my sister’s – to their cousins and I? Well, I lived in the kitchen.
Barely eating, and #Bakinghappy. #Bakingmad.
Its weird though, for all the anticipation of being home alone, sans children. Sans ever-present guilt. Alone. To cook. Bake. Blog. Sleep and do all the things I love to.
And then I begin to ‘miss them’.
Sleep? Poof. Nowhere near as much as I expected. Lets just say I had perfect red-eyes for Monday.
But. But. But. I baked up a STORM.
That bit I LOVED.
Even when half the flour for my Coconut cookies dumped itself on the floor and I had to clean it up, I didn’t blink. Nor flinch. I cleaned it, and started afresh. Resolute, determined that the weekend would yield good results.
I’ve always thought I loved food in every situation but this weekend has taught me that perhaps I don’t. That maybe what it is that moves me to action with food is the sheer joy of feeding others.
Seeing them swoon and delight in that which I’ve toiled over.
For I lost my appetite without my children. Totally.
On the first night when I baked these tropical fruitcakes, studded with young coconut and mango chunks, I didn’t have dinner till 10pm. Castigate as you like. I had baked myself into a tizzy and totally forgotten ‘food’. Three (3)
small plates of Chinese Fried Rice later, I was done. Full. Ready for whatever.
On the second day, I’d been to visit the kids at my sister’s. It was ‘Heaven-sent’s‘ 1st birthday. Unbelievable. And of course there would have been NO party without favourite aunt. ME. Just in case you wonder! That said, all I did was snack. Snack on puff-puff, and suya, samosas and spring rolls. All small chops. But lots of. That was lunch and dinner. Downed with a ‘Shandy’, a quick mix of light Beer and Sprite. Taken from my brother’s fridge. Just for fun. Lets just say that ‘She who likes to eat her alcohol, by cake and chicken‘ had to go to bed ‘early’, wrapped in cotton wool and totally light-headed….
By day three I had to admit that I missed the noise and chatter. I was lonely. Alone. Twiddling thumbs. Baking cakes though, stuffing mini chocolate bundts with chocolate mousse and topping them with ganache was fun. But I missed them still.
In spite of all this though, I have to laud the extreme progress I made. Re: Christmas baking. Re: Making gifts. ReBaking. For I have lots of gifts to make. Gifts to doctors and nurses who were wonderful to me during a short hospital stay in June. Doctors and nurses whom I promised cake. Back in June. And you know me, I keep my promises, I honour my resolutions. And so I baked myself silly. And happy. And when I went to deliver the cakes this morning, there was lots of joy! To my utter delight!!
Here’s what I baked over the weekend:
- 12 mini-bundt fruit cakes
- 4 full-size fruit cakes
- 6 mini-bundt chocolate cakes
- A 3-layer cake triple chocolate cake, for ‘Heaven-sent’
- A 2-layer chocolate cake
- Coconut and Coconut Jam cookie crisps
And here are some of the recipes, just in case you’d like to work yourself into a tizz!
Recipe #1 – Tropical Fruit Cake
When ready, divide the fruit into two equal portions. In a food processor, blitz one portion, till the fruit is minced and the texture is a thick fruit paste.
In a large pan, combine the fruit paste, the other half of the soaked dried fruits and all the liqueur, cherries, coconut, mangoes, sugar, butter, zests and juice of the lemon and orange and all of the brandy-liqueur from the soak.
Bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the butter has melted, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat and bubble for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 150C/Gas 2/Fan 130C.
Line two cake tins with greaseproof or parchment paper, greasing before and after laying the paper at the bottom of the tins.
When the mixture has cooled down, add the eggs and ground almonds and mix well. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into the pan. Stir in gently, until there are no traces of flour left.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tins.
Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 140C/Gas 1/Fan 120C and cook for a further 1 hour for the mini-bundt tins, and up to 1 and 1/2 hours (or up to 1 ¾ hours if you are using gas) until the cake is dark golden in appearance and firm to the touch. Cover the top of the cake with foil if it starts to darken too much.
To check the cake is done, insert a fine skewer or a small knife into the centre – if it comes out ‘dry’, without cake batter clinging to it, the cake is cooked.
Make holes all over the warm cake with a fine skewer and spoon or brush on the extra brandy over the holes until it has all soaked in. Leave the cake to cool in the tin. When its cold remove from tin, peel off the lining paper. Pour some brandy into a small bowl and soak a large piece of cheesecloth in it, till it is completely saturated. Wrap this around your cake, then follow with baking parchment or greaseproof paper and then aluminum foil.
I’ve discovered that different people like different things:
- Room temperature – This cake can be kept at room temperature, but it isn’t advisable in extremely humid climates. Like Nigeria. If you want to keep it at room temperature, set it in a cool, dark place nicely wrapped up. I’m a fan of this, even though I haven’t seen sustained results.
- Refrigerate – My sister prefers her cake in the fridge. She says it stays ‘dry’ and crumbly….which she likes.
- Deep Freeze – My mum loves her cake any old how. Frozen where it tends to become more moist, almost pudding like…..though not quite.
Recipe #2 – Coconut Cookie Crisps
I’ve long been a fan of coconut cookies, and this cross between cookie and cracker is perfect.
This recipe delivered on the headnotes – down to thin, crunch and crisp. I adapted it from a chocolate-chip version which is awesome. The headnotes talk about them blurring the lines between cookies and crackers.
What I liked the most was that barring the time spent documenting the process via photos, they are quite easy to put together. The most difficult part is rolling the dough out thinly but it is soft and pliable which makes it easy!
2 cups/ 300g all-purpose white flour (plus more if necessary)
2 cups/ 120g medium desiccated coconut
7 tablespoons/ 120g/ ½ cup granulated white sugar
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
Scant 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄3 cup coconut or vegetable oil such as canola or safflower
2 tablespoons coconut extract combined with 1⁄2 cup room temperature water
1teaspoon granulated sugar
Set a rack in the middle of the oven. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
You will need 2 large baking sheets and 4 sheets of parchment paper about 1 1/2 feet in length each.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, desiccated coconut, sugar, baking powder, and salt until well blended being sure to crumble any lumps of sugar so you have a mixture thats uniformly combined.
Whisk the oil and coconut extract-water mixture. Stir it immediately into the flour mixture until it is mixed in then finish off combining by hand. The dough should be soft and cohesive. If it is crumbly, add additional water by the tablespoon till it forms a soft dough. Note that as you roll it out, it’ll come together even more. If the opposite is the case and it is very soft, you can add additional desiccated coconut or flour, also by the tablespoon.
Split the dough in half (my halves weighed about 400g each). Set one half in the centre of two pieces of parchment and roll it into a (thin) 12-inch square. I used the tiles on my counter as a guide – they are a perfect 12 & 12 inch square.
Cut and patch the ‘square’ to make the sides fairly even, then remove the top parchment sheet from each square. Sprinkle the top evenly with 1/2 teaspoon of granulated sugar. Lay the parchment back on the dough, then roll over it with the rolling pin so the sugar is embedded in it.
Remove the top sheet of parchment and re-use if you like. I do.
Using a pizza cutter, pastry wheel, or large knife, cut each dough sheet lengthwise and crosswise into 8 equal strips to form a grid (with uneven edges all around). Try not to cut through the parchment. Slide the parchment and dough (leave the edges in place) onto the baking sheets.
Repeat with second half of dough.
So with one half, I left the dough plain, and with the other, I made jam drops by thumbing the centres of the squares, and filling with a tiny bit of jam.
My oven is big enough to take both pans, which I placed on the middle rack for 15 to 18 minutes or until the dough is set but not firm in the center; remove from oven and set aside to cool. Mine took 15 minutes in my gas oven.
Turn the oven down the oven to 250°F (about 125°C).
When the crisps are cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes discard the scraps if you like. I didn’t fancy that idea. But still, separate the squares and spread them in the pan. Bake for 20 minutes; gently stirring to redistribute the crisps halfway through.
Turn off the oven and let the crisps sit in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes longer or even more……I had to go out and left mine for 6 good hours in the oven (by the time I came back, they were completely cool).
Remove from the oven and let sit until completely cooled. Store these, airtight, for up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 2 months.
I ended up with two delightful batches. One plain…
And the other, jammed.
Which I nicely packed up in clear bags for ‘gifting’.
Recipe #3 – Triple Chocolate Cake
This recipe begins with the chocolate dump-it-all cake – my favourite recipe of all-time, progresses to centres of chocolate mousse and ends with a topping of chocolate ganache, decorated with festive sprinkles.
I baked the cakes in mini-bundt pans.
And then I bring out one of my latest acquisitions – a cake corer. One that allows you remove a core, any core of cake……and fill it as you like.
Easy as pie. So you begin with a mini bundt cake – a cupcake would suffice too.
Press the corer in – at the centre, …
Then you remove a core of cake. You could eat it or feed to pregnant sisters or hungry children. Or set aside for later.
That core……..well, it gets filled with chocolate mousse.
And topped off with ganache. Which you can drizzle over the top. Free flow. Down grooves and cracks.
Finish however you like. Festive sprinkles. Shaved chocolate. Nothing? Your choice entirely.
And then set your heart on giving them away………not even shaken. By thoughts of self. And children. Just do for yourself a good deed.
Give them away.
You’ll feel awesome. Rewarded by smiles and praise and hugs even!
Try it……any of the three bakes…and see what good things you receive in return :-).
Monday Thursday and they’ve been back for days.
Everything is normal now…..
The noise, the screaming, the fighting, the cuddling, the love.
Its all here.
Stay well and let me know what your favourite bakes to gift and receive are!